NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The 11th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) kicks off on Saturday with two reinstated teams and a new broadcaster in a fresh testament to its undiminished appeal to India’s incurably cricket-obsessed masses.
Few expected the Twenty20 tournament to climb out of the morass of spot-fixing and illegal betting it descended into five years ago, which eventually led to bans on its Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals franchises.
The IPL not only survived but its brand value actually grew to an estimated $5.3 billion, according to New York-based corporate finance advisory firm Duff & Phelps.
Last September the league sold its media rights to Star India for $2.52 billion, the biggest television deal the game has seen.
“This is perhaps what makes the IPL brand what it is,” cricket historian Boria Majumdar told Reuters of the league’s robust financial health.
“Controversies notwithstanding, cricket continues to be of the very highest quality and retains centre stage.
“Also, in the IPL India wins every day. There is no uncertainty that an Indian team might or can lose and it will be all doom and gloom thereafter.
“This is what draws fans to the IPL every single day year after year,” said Majumdar whose new book, ‘Eleven Gods and a Billion Indians’, will be released by India and Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli on Saturday.
Sponsors are naturally keen to play ball.
“As sponsor, and we spend money for publicity,” Mahesh Gupta, chairman of Kent RO Systems, told Reuters.
“IPL is a platform which has the widest reach and quickest reach. It gives you the best return on investment. So we invest there.”
The water purifier brand has come on board as the title sponsor of Kings XI Punjab franchise and plans to spend 500 million rupees ($7.69 million) on promotion during the IPL.
Gupta said the sponsors are aware of the past scandals but believe the league had adequately addressed those concerns.
“There were issues and they were rightly examined. In any event you’d have good people and bad people but the good people have outnumbered the bad.
“Small issues cannot affect a bigger brand. It (IPL’s brand value) has not been affected. It’s become stronger and stronger and I think this season, with change in the broadcaster, it is looking even more attractive.”
IPL’s commercial success has inspired several franchise-based leagues even in other sports, while consolidating cricket’s stranglehold over young athletes.
“It has made franchise cricket a lucrative career option. Not playing for India isn’t the end of the world anymore,” explained Majumdar.
“Playing well in the IPL allows a cricketer to be a star, get endorsements, get real serious money. It turns him into an overnight celebrity of sorts.”
Chennai return to take on Mumbai Indians in Saturday’s tournament opener featuring two IPL heavyweights who share five titles between them.
Rajasthan mark their comeback against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Monday with both teams forced into a late leadership change following Australia’s ball-tampering controversy in South Africa.
Former Australia captain Steve Smith stepped down as Rajasthan skipper while David Warner relinquished Hyderabad captaincy following the scandal.
Cricket Australia have banned both of them for 12 months, while they have also been barred from this year’s IPL.
Ajinkya Rahane will lead Rajasthan instead, while New Zealander Kane Williamson will skipper Hyderabad as the lone foreigner leading an IPL team in the April 7-May 27 tournament.
($1 = 65.01 Indian rupees)
Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Sudipto Ganguly